Shortly before Zell Miller hired shrewd Democratic consultant James Carville to direct strategy for his 1990 governor's campaign, Miller convened a meeting of key Baptist leaders.
At that get-together of clerics, then-Lt. Gov. Miller railed against any attempt to install a lottery in Georgia. He said a state lottery would become an open invitation to pari-mutuel betting, warned that daddies would throw away the milk money on lottery tickets and that Georgia would be overrun by crazed gambling addicts. The preachers nodded in agreement.
Shortly after Carville came to Atlanta, Miller made a 180-degree turn to the left. Forget all that stuff about the horrors of gambling. With a nudge from Carville, Miller decided the lottery was fun and profitable, and he endorsed it. Georgians were off to the races - well, not the races, but the ticket machines. The international lottery interests were delighted. Another sheep had joined the fold. Let the shearing begin.
The elected kings of the Bible belt wanted common folks to play the numbers to help pay for their kids' schools. It was a swell idea, and they called it HOPE.
Indeed, the lottery is a vice, but this is different - a good state-run vice that helps people, right? Sure it is.
If our transportation system had turned out as well as HOPE, "congestion" would be limited to medical books. HOPE has been a smashing success.
Georgians voted to allow mostly poor people to pay a huge share of the schools' costs for middle-class folks, who openly ridiculed the state lottery as a sucker's game. HOPE became known as "a voluntary tax."
State Lottery President Margaret DeFrancisco recently turned out a press release showing the lottery had set another annual record for receipts - a whopping $3.4 billion. The lottery is like a rocket streaking into the financial stratosphere. It also looks like a giant hog trough for lottery employees. DeFrancisco makes four times the compensation of Gov. Sonny Perdue. Last year, the queen of the Georgia numbers drew $286,000 in salary, plus a $236,000 bonus.
Other lottery managers and workers have drawn comparable paychecks and bonuses. Money, money, money - hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, millions - flies around like confetti.
"'Taint fair," cry other nonlottery state employees who have received pennies in pay raises and nothing in bonuses for years.
Lottery board chairman Larry Campbell explained in an interview with the AJC, "The Georgia Lottery Corp. is not a state agency. We have to sell a product. You have to motivate people to do that, and incentives, as in any public corporation, are the best way to do that."
Not a state agency? C'mon, Larry. The next thing you'll be saying is that the education lottery is not really gambling.
Come to think of it, you may be right. The Georgia lottery is not a game of chance. It is rigged. While the scratchers pick up some extra folding money, and a few folks win millions, the "house" - the self-righteous state of Georgia sheltered in the perfect symbol, the Gold Dome - always rakes in billions lost by the ever-hopeful dopes who play.
In the pre-lottery era, Georgia politicians and preachers decried gambling as an awful sin - worse than even gay marriage - because it led to worse sins. Sponsors of horse-betting legislation tried repeatedly to introduce the ponies to Georgia. Preachers from Georgia killed their legislation, and so did lobbyists from Alabama and other legal-gambling states who wanted no competition from Georgia.
Today, Georgia's suckers are told that the state lottery law actually keeps out other forms of gambling and thus protects our citizens from mobsters who might want to dip into the state-run, 100 percent honest game.
To be sure, the Georgia lottery works well. It does so because people want to play. Horse-track gambling would work equally well, and probably would install Georgia as a leader in horse-breeding. However, that would constitute sinful gambling. Of course, we can't have such - not while some state-paid employees are raking in millions from the Georgia Lottery Corp., which is not a state agency, according to its state-paid manager.
Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. E-mail him at email@example.com.